WATCH: Therapy dog graduates already spreading joy
EVANSVILLE—With tears in his eyes and his Great Dane, Kevin, at his side, Andy Barth explained with a choked voice why he decided to raise a therapy dog.
The village of Albany native's mother died from cancer last year. While in hospice, a therapy dog visited her to bring comfort and peace in her final days, Barth said.
Barth decided he wanted to pass the joy his mother's therapy dog gave her onto others.
“She really appreciated it,” Barth said to the audience that had come to celebrate the dogs. “Kevin's already proven to be a pretty good boy, so we thought we'd take the course so we could give back a little bit just the way that dog gave to her.”
Kevin was one of four therapy dogs that graduated Tuesday night from their training at Das Hund Haus, an Evansville kennel run by Scott and Tina Lindner. The other dogs were:
—Hannah, a Labradoodle owned by Brenda Cude of Footville
—Finnegan, a goldendoodle owned by Roberta Sarow of Evansville
—Nitro, a Labrador owned by the Lindners
They were the first four to go through training and graduate from the kennel.
The 20-week program began with obedience school. Once the dogs passed that, they moved onto the American Kennel Club's Canine Good Citizen program that further taught them obedience. Finally, the dogs went to area nursing homes, juvenile detention centers and schools to gain real-world experience as therapy dogs, Scott Lindner said.
The dogs have already done some good in the community.
At a recent visit to a juvenile detention center, one girl told the therapy dog owners she was worried about a court appearance she had the next day. After spending some time with the dogs, her anxiety melted away, Tina Lindner said.
“She actually came out and said, 'Nitro, you made my day. ... You actually made me feel better,'” Tina said. “So that was cool. It meant a lot.”
Residents at a Footville nursing home couldn't wait to see the dogs during a recent visit, Scott Lindner said.
“These dogs walked in, and they were mobbed by the residents that live there. We couldn't get past the door,” he said.
Now that the dogs are “therapists,” their owners will take them at their own discretion to different schools, nursing homes and other locations to spread comfort.
The dogs will be used at J.C. McKenna Middle School in Evansville, where the ceremony was held, to help students read, overcome anxiety or cope with tragedy, Scott Lindner said.
During training, a car crash killed three high school students from nearby Monroe. The dogs weren't used then because they weren't certified yet, but if a neighboring community faces a similar tragedy, the dogs will be there, he said.
The dogs weren't the only ones honored during the informal ceremony. Scott Lindner took a moment to thank the owners for their selfless decision to train therapy dogs and help others.
“Unfortunately, we live in a 'me-first' world now. You guys are working on changing that, and that's absolutely fabulous,” Scott Lindner said. “You might not get a lot of thank yous at times, but you know what? Everywhere you take those dogs, you do make a difference ... and people will not forget that.”
The dogs might be graduates, but their work is just beginning.
So is that of the kennel. Das Hund Haus will begin training a new batch a aspiring therapy dogs in the coming weeks, Scott Lindner said.